Despite the sun only making a few brief appearances, the musicians brought their own sunshine to this year’s Blues on the Farm festival, as Ellie Evans discovered...
Having spent the early part of 2013 immersed in what I dubbed Project Winter: The Blues (ie working my way through the boxset of Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: A Musical Journey) in a bid to learn more about the genre which was the bedrock of some of my favourite bands (Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, early Fleetwood Mac, anything involving Jack White), I thought I knew what to expect at Blues on the Farm.
I thought beards, real ale and plenty of serious head-nodding would be the flavour of the weekend at Appledram Farm.
Yet what I found was a surprisingly varied range of bands, along with a surprisingly varied range of beers (but yes, many beards) - and I danced my socks off.
Friendly and fun, this small-but-perfectly-formed festival had a somewhat soggy reception last year when heavy rain saw the date moved from June to September. But the sun shone enough for us to work up a sweat as we put up our tent, before heading into the festival for a well-deserved pint and a pasty.
I chatted with the man at the hog roast stall who told me that for a devoted metalhead like him, it all sounded ‘a bit the same’. Having honed my love of blues in recent months, that was actually music to my ears, but he couldn’t have been more wrong.
We plonked ourselves at the back of the giant music marquee and just caught the end of the Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion, which featured a fantastic rap which had everyone whooping - the first surprise of the day.
Babajack, runners-up in the Best Acoustic Act category of the 2012 British Blues Awards, followed and brought a fantastic energy to the stage with a unique sound which included a belting version of Gallows Pole. Eat your heart out, Planty!
A highlight of the afternoon was Rodney Branigan, a Texan-born, London-based performer (“How do you tell if someone’s from Texas? We tell you”) who did things with two guitars I wouldn’t have thought physically possible. For the five-year-old with us, his diverse and super-energetic act was as entertaining as his banter, and included an unforgettable rendition of Radiohead’s Creep which might have just expanded that little chap’s vocabulary...
With not much on offer to entertain younger members of the audience, there were plenty of forays out of the main tent for bursts of ball games, but the warm, inclusive festival atmosphere meant everyone was smilingly indulgent of the catching and chasing going on in their midst.
Sam Kelly’s Fowokan band provided another high point, with their funk and reggae filling the field and putting a smile on everyone’s faces - I’d like to say they brought out the sun, but that might have been the effects of my many trips to the excellent beer tent. Safe to say that lead vocalist Jimmy Lindsay’s voice dripped sunshine, at least, as did their sound.
Matthew Lee, who came next, was less blues and more rock’n’roll; his early Elton John vibe wasn’t my favourite of the day, but the honkytonk piano certainly had us all on our feet and dancing.
Sadly, the five-year-old was flagging by this point (as was I - blame the Summer Lightning) so we didn’t get to stick around for the main man, Mud Morganfield. But the sound that floated back to our tent proved all the accolades are extremely well deserved: he surely is the heir to the King of Chicago Blues throne.
Catching snatches of his rich tones singing such real, heartfelt blues was the perfect (and hoped for) end to a day which had been full of surprises.
And by the look on our fellow festivalgoers’ faces the next morning as we queued for bacon sandwiches and tea, a great night was clearly had by all.